Holy Man

Holy Man wants to have its cake and eat it, too. At the Good Buy Shopping Network (GBSN), the philosophy of selling is plainly stated: The product itself doesn't really matter. Instead, what the station's programming must do is generate a desire to acquire, stimulating viewers-potential consumers to buy items they didn't realize they desperately needed.

When G (Eddie Murphy), a mild-mannered guru-in-waiting, wanders into this high-pressure, low-morals world and tells enraptured members of the viewing audience that they don't actually require these things in order to feel complete, what happens? Any item that's featured on the screen while G is speaking sells out almost instantaneously.

So the idea is that anti-materialism sells? Holy Man carelessly presents this paradox as if it were a given: that someone who's seemingly concerned with the spiritual well-being of every soul around him would happily get on television, hawk schlock while spewing vague aphorisms and do it all for no financial reward.

Then the question becomes, what is Holy Man selling? Spiritual comfort food, spiced with a love story between Ricky (Jeff Goldblum), a GBSN executive living beyond his ample means, and Kate (Kelly Preston), an overcompensating, hot-shot media analyst hired by the network's owner (Robert Loggia) to clean house.

Every now and then, Holy Man perks up when G turns impish, even naughty, hinting that perhaps this bland, neutered Eddie Murphy is really a trickster sent to stir up these self-satisfied practitioners of gung-ho capitalism. No such luck.

Director Stephen Herek and screenwriter Tom Schulman don't even scratch the surface of the moral conflicts that arise from the volatile mixture of religion, television and money, opting instead to turn G into a pop culture icon representing "a higher state of consciousness and non-stop shopping." They also skewer a subject -- home shopping -- that, like tabloid talk shows, is already a parody of itself.

There are some laughs to be had in Holy Man, a slick, competently made package that proves once again that the problem in Hollywood isn't with craftsmanship, but inspiration.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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